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Questions & Answers About Indulgences

What exactly are the eternal punishments due to sins?

When we speak of eternal punishment, we are referring to the everlasting pains of hell.

What then are the temporal punishments due to sin?

Punishments, which take place in the temporal realm or in time, are basically the ills and struggles of mortal life. We all know sickness and dying. We experience loss and grieving. We face man’s inhumanity to man as well as natural disaster. The pains of purgatory would also be added to this list.

In what ways are the temporal punishments due to sin forgiven?

There are many ways, including penance, prayer, good works, and indulgences.

Can it really be shown that Jesus gave his apostles the power to grant indulgences or to remit the temporal punishment due to sin?

Yes, this power is found in the sacred charge given Peter by Jesus: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The authority is given to Peter from Christ to remit whatever it is that hinders people from the gate of heaven.

Is it lawful for the Catholic Church to charge money for granting indulgences?

No, it is not. Such trafficking in indulgences is an abuse that has always been condemned by the Church.

But, did not the Pope charge money for the indulgences sold to help build St. Peter’s in Rome?

The charge behind this question is a gross distortion of the facts. The conditions placed upon those desiring such an indulgence were clearly enumerated: they were first to make a good confession, and only then as an act of penance, they might offer some money to the building of the great church. However, no one was obliged to make this payment, as there were many other ways to have temporal punishment forgiven.

Wait a minute, how can this be true? The Dominican monk, Tetzel, told the crowds that the payment of a dollar could gain an indulgence of past and even of future sins.

Well, if the monk really said this, then he was sorely mistaken. Such behavior would have been in contradiction to Church teaching. Reputable authorities give a different picture of Tetzel. Indeed, in 1517, he published a thesis upon the subject wherein he writes that to gain an indulgence there must be sorrow for sin, a good confession, Holy Communion, fasting, and church visitation. He also writes that the indulgence does not forgive sins, but only the temporal punishments of past sins, and not of future sins.

Why does God not forgive sins directly, without priestly and papal mediation?

Such is well within the prerogatives of God; however, he wisely created the ministry of priests. First, the priest functions in Christ’s name and corrects the sinner from his evil ways. Second, the priest imposes a penance upon the sinner, just as our Lord would do if he still visibly walked the earth. Third, the encounter with a minister of the Church amplifies the certainty of God’s friendship and mercy; one does not have to endure a life of uncertainty about the forgiveness of one’s sins.

Could it be that indulgences might forgive the temporal punishments imposed by the Church, but not those put into place by God?

No, the authority here is absolute. “Whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.” This power granted the Church through Peter makes no distinctions.

What does the term “treasury of the merits of the Church” mean?

This has to do with the infinite merits of Christ, the “superabundant merits” of the Virgin Mary and those of the saints. Our Lord gave the Church the power to distribute these merits to penitent sinners and to remit to them the temporal punishments due to sin.

Will not people abandon a spirit of penance if they see that temporal punishments can be forgiven easily?

No, because to gain an indulgence, such a contrite heart, free from sin, and averse to evil inclinations, must be present. Such a disposition can quite easily shorten the time of penance.

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.

One Response

  1. Dear Father, I am a convert and still trying to understand indulgences. I want to participate in the Divine Mercy Sunday rituals for indulgences. At first, I thought I had to confess, receive communion, pray for the pope and then pray in front of the tabernacle. Now I hear that I would have to do a novena of divine mercy chaplets starting on Good Friday, which I did not do.

    Must I wait until next year to gain this indulgence?



    What is likely causing the confusion is that I addressed in general both novenas and indulgences. The Divine Mercy Novena (narrated in Sister Faustina’s diary extends for nine days with specific prayers and intentions from Good Friday to Easter Saturday). Distinct from this is the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Many but not necessarily all who would seek the indulgence would have also have prayed the Novena. Not strictly required, it would help one to establish the proper spiritual disposition so as to receive the indulgence on Divine Mercy Sunday.

    As for the conditions to receive the plenary indulgence, the best source is to read the requirements straight from the Vatican.

    “And so the Supreme Pontiff, motivated by an ardent desire to foster in Christians this devotion to Divine Mercy as much as possible in the hope of offering great spiritual fruit to the faithful, in the Audience granted on 13 June 2002, to those Responsible for the Apostolic Penitentiary, granted the following Indulgences: a plenary indulgence, granted under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honor of Divine Mercy, or who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).”

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